Lion King – How does the new CGI film match up to the original… and the musical on the West End

Hello readers,

I know I haven’t been very active recently but holidays and such things have kept me busy and I haven’t been going to the cinema as much. Anyway, I have had this post in the works for a month now and thought I would finally write it while Lion King is still relevant.

If you’re a Lion King fan you probably will have seen the new version by now but I thought I would compare it to the original and the musical which I was lucky enough to see at the West End last winter.

Old vs. New

The Lion King (1994)
Lion King 1994 Poster
James Earl Jones and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)
Lion King 2019 Poster

For many people the original 1994 Lion King is a classic and well-loved childhood film. I have seen this film a handful of times as both child and adult and I agree that it is one of Disney’s best from that era. The Elton John soundtrack; the voice acting; the classic animation style and the fact that it’s set in the plains of Africa with no human characters, not something that was common in Disney or any animation at the time. To anthropomorphise a pride of lions, hyenas and a warthog and give them very real human emotions and relationships could be considered a risky move but one that Disney pulled off.

It ended up grossing $968m at the box office and won two Academy Awards, another rarity for a children’s animation.

After the success of the first film, the new CGI version of 2019 had a lot to live up to. For me, the original will always be number one as that’s the one I grew up with along with many others and the animation style is dated enough to remind me of days gone by and how far cinema has come. Needless to say I did enjoy the new one. I thought the CGI was great and it made it all much more real. You could really believe that these animals could talk and interact with each other whereas the cartoon was relying more on imagination and artistic license.

I also loved the new twists such as the new song Spirit and elaboration on some scenes. To most people who perhaps saw the original film 20 years ago, the films will appear almost identical but having recently watched the older version I can see the subtle changes. Obviously nothing was changed too much as the original plot, characters and songs are what make the film enjoyable and popular but an identical replica would not draw the crowds. I must admit I did find myself dropping off asleep for a couple of minutes but whether I was just tired or the film didn’t keep me as enraptured as it should have is by the by. I saw the film a week or so after it was released and the screening was pretty full so clearly it was popular.

One small fact that I learned from the internet is there is one real shot in the film that is not CGI created. It is the sun rising over the trees at the very beginning just as Circle of Life is starting. Jon Favreau, the director, said he wanted to put it in to see if anyone would notice. I knew it was coming but couldn’t distinguish real from computer generated. To date, the film has grossed $1.5bn and is now the seventh biggest grossing of all time. If you compare the totals to the original Lion King which when adjusted for inflation grossed $1.6bn it’s about on par and is still in cinemas so could surpass.

Award ceremonies are yet to happen for 2019 Lion King but I’m sure there will be some nominations in there somewhere.

New vs. Musical

JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)
Simba in Lion King 2019
Image result for lion king west end musical
The Lion King Musical Poster

Last November, I went to the West End to see the production of The Lion King. It was set up by a Disney film society I am part of at university and I must admit I had not desires previously to see it but when the trip was mentioned I thought it would make for a fun evening.

All my expectations were thrown out the door as soon as the musical began. I wasn’t sure how people were going to portray the animals, maybe just suggested with face paint or masks, but the Africa headdresses and elaborate puppets brought a creative and imaginative spark to the story. The songs and dances were performed using stage mechanics along with talented dancers and singers. It was definitely not your typical musical but it needed to be to show the story.

Some highlights for me included Circle of Life where Pride Rock rose from the stage and Hakuna Matata, a song I always enjoy. Our seats were quite far back but I could still see everything and get the full effect of the show. It was so different from the film that I was not comparing them in my head at all. I loved this interpretation and can now see why so many people flock to see it.

Now comparing the musical with the new film is tricky as they are different mediums with different budgets and boundaries but I think I liked the power and emotion of the songs on stage more than the film’s versions. Seeing an actual person singing and pouring their heart into the scene is different from seeing a CGI lion do the same. However, I think the setting and plot flowed better in the film as the musical left some things open to interpretation. One hilarious moment that you can only do on stage was when Zazu is singing ‘Let it Go’ and Scar tells him to be quiet. Zazu from the film would have no idea about Frozen or any film for that matter. There were a few fourth wall breaks which added an unexpected comedy element to the dark and dramatic tale.

I couldn’t pick one above the other as they are both amazing in different ways so if you are a fan of musicals or Lion King, I recommend seeing for yourself.

Hopefully I will be getting to the cinema more this summer so will have more films to write about.

Films I have enjoyed in the last month or so: Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw; Apollo 13; The Gambler; Fun with Dick and Jane; Death at a Funeral (2007); The Adjustment Bureau; As Good as It Gets; American Made and All the Money in the World.

TV shows I would recommend: Forever (only one series but worth it); 13 Reasons Why Series 3 (up to episode 10 and gripped); Good Omens (Dad loved the book, amazing show and I am now reading the book); This Way Up (Aisling Bea is amazing); GameFace Series 2 (Roisin Conaty, likewise); GLOW Series 3 (amazing).

Happy Watching,